The first half of Ludum Dare
As a developer who recently took part in his first Ludum Dare event- I can say that at least for me, it was pretty damn fun. It's hectic, but a very good lesson in how to handle project scoping. Additionally, it's very good at teaching you how to handle realizing that your project is a bit rubbish but making the most of it in the short time allocated.
As someone who has had some problems in the past with adequate scoping, I feel that picking something moderately tiny - "run around a planet, shoot things, protect things" - was appropriate. Surprisingly, it came out quite well! However, talking about my experiences isn't quite the focus of this post.
Ludum Dare puts you under a lot of pressure to finish your project. 48 hours is a deceptively short amount of time.
"Oh, I only spent about 50 hours making this other game and that turned out fine!" is a very convincing reaction until you realize that those 50 hours were spread out over a week or two. Once you factor in sleeping, eating, taking breaks to prevent death, and then the inevitable burnout period when you just want to watch one more Youtube video to help you wake up, you begin to realize that realistically you only have about 20 hours of functioning work time maximum.
Even then, the sheer number of hours put in does not make a good game. Some of that has to be planning, a lot of it has to be prototyping, and a lot of it has to be polishing. All those hours you thought you had very quickly disappear. I spent about 3 hours working on a sand texture. Even now, I'm not particularly happy with that texture. However, I've learned from that to not get bogged down tunnel-visioning on one thing just to make the minimum viable product.
That lesson at the end is so much more significant if you have tangible proof of having learned it. My tangible proof is the existence of the game I made for the event. Just reading the sentence "don't spend all your time trying to make sand not look like noodles" does not mean that you fully understand it.
Hopefully by now, I've sold you on the benefits of creating a game for Ludum Dare. There is, however, the other half of Ludum Dare.
The other half of Ludum Dare
There were a hell of a lot of games made for Ludum Dare 38. In fact, just under 3000 are published on the ldjam.com website. These games are made by developers with a wide range of abilities, and it can be equally useful to play them as it is to create one.
In particular, you need to leave feedback after you play the game. Constructive criticism can be very useful for the developer, but it's underrated just how useful it can also be for you. Trying to understand why a gunshot feels weak or why the art style doesn't sit right is one thing, but trying to articulate and explain it can be very helpful to your own understanding.
Also, if you want to improve your writing, giving feedback can be some quick and easy practice. Write two or three hundred words on how that game made you feel, what you liked, and what you didn't like. Over time, it will add up.
As an added bonus to all these, each user on Ludum Dare has a "coolness" factor. Your game will show up more prominently if you've rated and given feedback to a high number of other submissions. Currently, voting is still not enabled and neither is the coolness system. However, the website aptly named "Feedback Friends" is a solid substitute in the meantime, so there's no reason not to start commenting right away!
I hope you found this informative or otherwise motivational, I've been putting off writing this post for about 2-3 days now. It feels good to finally get it done, despite the fact that I'm exhausted. If you're one of the people who religiously check my blog every 3 days and give me a small view spike like clockwork even when I haven't posted- thank you, but god I feel bad about not posting when that happens.